We’ve all seen many writings about the horrible traits of Borderline Personality Disorder showing the disorder in a very negative light. You may have heard those of us with BPD described as highly manipulative, needy, demanding, flighty, volatile, dramatic, emotional, abusive - the list goes on. I vividly remember telling my Dialectical Behavioral Therapist (DBT) “I was a monster who belonged in a cage under lock and key”. I also recall a homeopathic/naturalist Doctor I saw for a bit who said “Women with BPD are the only women I date! It makes my life more interesting”.
I do not and cannot ever watch horror films. I prefer not to have nightmares! I do know however, that most horror films depict the female with many of the worst traits of Borderline, such as the role Glenn Close played in Fatal Attraction, the “crazy, psychotic, clingy, bitch” that made Michael Douglas and Anne Archer’s lives a nightmare. She acted out two of the most known traits of BPD, clinginess and obsession, which made the diagnosis of having Borderline a scary one indeed. Other movies that depicted the traits of BPD in a lead character role are Perks of Being a Wallflower, Girl Interrupted and Eternal Sunshine for the Spotless Mind.
We know of many famous people diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder, such as Britney Spears, Courtney Love, Lindsey Lohan, Princess Diana, Angelina Jolie-Pitt...and those diagnosed who died by their own hand, like Amy Winehouse, Marilyn Monroe and Judy Garland. There are many men also, yet the females seem to get all the attention!
Those of us who suffer with BPD are more than used to our friends and family sharing their frustration with being unable to manage our symptoms or us when they display. We are told that we “burn people out”, we “exhaust you”, we are “too much” and that to have a relationship with us on a long-term basis is “disruptive to your life”. The truth be told however, the person with BPD is typically the one to burn out or have an incapacity to deal with the intense emotions we experience. Those with Borderline possess an extreme sensitivity to other people’s thoughts, feelings and even physical sensations. I have personally found that I do not need to necessarily know the person well. I can pick up “vibes” on a total stranger. We also have a very high giftedness of influencing others and getting people on-board with a task or an idea. This stems from a keen sense of what psychologists have come to term as “Interpersonal Intelligence”. Basically, it is the ability of someone with Borderline to have an innate awareness and capacity to understand the intentions, motivations and desires of other people. Borderlines also are very introspective in that we have the capacity to understand our own feelings, fears and empathic ability. It does make it difficult for the person with BPD to navigate themselves in terms of personal relationships and social situations. It can be both a blessing and a curse!
Unfortunately, without the ability to regulate our own personal emotions, it leads us to having emotional storms and mood swings. This is also known as “splitting” or being all “white brain” or all “black brain”. We have no capacity to find the “grey” or in-between in a situation. Due to these qualities, a Borderline can find themselves highly triggered during stressful situations, or fear of abandonment of a loved one.
Most Borderlines grow up in an unpredictable and traumatic environment with sexual, physical or emotional abuse, neglected and abandoned. Due to existing in such an environment, BPD children learn how to “amp up” their empathic functioning. They protect themselves by being highly in tune or hyper-vigilant. They’ve had to learn to become highly attuned to the subconscious emotional cues of their parents or family members to prepare for unpredictable behavior such as sexual abuse or neglect.
Relationships come and go for those with BPD like waves on a beach. People try to minimize us and our over the top personalities by telling us:
- “Quiet down!”
- “Don’t cry!”
- “Don’t get so worked up over everything!”
- “You’re too loud!”
- “Are you taking your medication properly?”
- “Don't respond like that.”
- “I can’t handle your mood swings anymore.”
Because of this, I have felt many times that it is my job is to make those around me “more comfortable” with my symptoms. That I need to hide my “displays” and put on a mask so that others can breathe easier around me. I call this the dance of the mentally ill. We are too (fill in the blank) for you, so we are kept at arm’s length. Yet, when one of us takes our life by our own hand, our friends and family are the first to ask in wonderment:
- “Why did they not reach out to someone for help?”
Excuse me?! Why would we consider doing so? So we can be placated, marginalized, stigmatized back into the safe box where you can deal with us on your terms?
I would say that most people will not hang around in a relationship with those of us who suffer mental disorders long enough to even get to know us as a whole person. That would include the good, the bad and the ugly. What would you say if I made the statement that there are positive traits those of us with Borderline share? Or that we actually DO have a good side? Would you believe me if I told you we have the capacity to enrich your life?
Contrary to long held opinion, those of us with Borderline Personality Disorder have the capacity to be some of the most loving, empathetic, empathic, intuitive, resilient and intense people you will ever meet?
We are inherently very passionate and caring towards those in our lives. We give of our talents, physical gifts and ourselves “over the top”. When we love you, we would fall on the sword for you. We are loyal, intelligent, street smart and hard working. When we commit to something, it is with bulldog determination. We are great listeners and have a huge hearts for those that are hurting. We tend to have awesome leadership skills due to our charisma and magnetic personalities.
Think of treating someone with Borderline emotionally like my husband’s favorite sports car, a Lamborghini. Here you have this person who is emotionally intense, intuitive to the point of being empathic, with a heightened sense of perceptivity. We are like an expensive sports car with a powerful engine (limbic system) that requires special fuel and care in order to run properly on the road. Treated right, the Lamborghini is one of the most high-performing cars in the world. It deserves different treatment than say, a bicycle.
Think about it...we Borderlines are referred to as having a “personality disorder” but is it really in some regards a character flaw? When we display our “black side”, lack of self-soothing, unstable mood swings and tendency to rage when we are hurt or misunderstood it does present as a character flaw...on the flip side, we have this “supernatural” trait of being empaths. We are super in tune with the emotions and energy of people, animals and places. This aspect I would not consider a character flaw, but rather an asset.
Borderlines have the ability to note individual differences in the empathy level of those around them, just by looking at a person’s facial expression or body language. We are very in tune to social clues and can be highly alert and sensitive to negative feelings in others. Not surprisingly, Borderline women are much more intuitive than male BPDs by the way!
When I look back on my life NOW, knowing what I know about Borderline Personality Disorder, I would surmise that since we Borderlines are naturally empathic, intuitive people, I now think of it as my “super power”. It has been all along. Consider it the proverbial silver lining in a very dark cloud placed in the lives of those of us who live with Borderline.
What is important is that we learn to utilize treatment methodologies like Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, Cognitive Therapy, and other things like meditation, exercise and diet. We need to use anything that will help us, on a daily basis, to find a place of emotional regulation and perspective without burning ourselves out or resorting to “black brain” thinking. It is a choice we must choose to make to bring about a life with more stability vs. a life of chaos.
Since “coming out” with my mental disorder to all who would listen, leaving my 20 plus year career in the cosmetic world and having the opportunity to write openly my Blogs on my website www.searchingforgrey.com/blogs, I have been coming to a very different understanding of the term “mental illness” and all it entails. I work closely with NAMI, the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill and sit on their Board of Directors. I will also be finishing my first book on living with mental disorders in 2019. I have been working with, talking to and forming relationships with those that have disorders as I do. This is very new to me and it has been quite the learning journey. It has led me to find a world of some of the most caring, authentic, empathetic people I have ever met. I struggle to grasp the concept that those of us who suffer tend to avoid others who suffer. It is a if we are afraid of having a relationship with someone that displays as we do. Go figure that one!
It has taken me years to be able to recognize the positive side of living with BPD, let alone value the fact that I am worthy of love and being loved back. I feel that “normal” people forget that they too possess negative traits, bad sides, tempers and pride. Because those of us with BPD are “larger than life”, we tend to overshadow the rhythm of the relationship. We accept that others feel overshadowed, yet we are also keenly aware (via our intuition and empathic nature) of your traits- good AND bad. We are very resilient, intelligent, devoted people. We would rather come across as witty than sarcastic, would rather make you laugh than cry and yet many of you feel the opposite.
While the symptoms of Borderline are very real and painful, I am asking those of you with BPD not to see ALL of your symptoms as “defects”. What if something like Borderline seen as a genetic defect or vulnerability, may actually be a form of giftedness? Just a thought…
With you on the Journey, Alice